Time to think

Fail fast. Iterate. Agile. So many of the buzzwords around innovation today focus on boldly doing before contemplatatively thinking. Are we moving so fast we’re forgetting to let ourselves think?

by Mark Wilson, Founder Partner, Wilson Fletcher

The mantra for businesses over the last decade has been very much centred on ‘faster’. Fast has become the imperative, but working at pace is not the same as working as fast as you can. Speed is not absolute, nor is it any guarantee of success.

The perfect mix of pace and quality is a key component of the magic formula for success: better and faster. It is certainly not ‘ok and quick’ or ‘sloppy and first’. In a world where everyone seems to be adopting lean, agile everything, how many are considering what gets lost? What gets lost is time to think.

Thinking time has become an endangered species. It’s so rare in fact that perhaps the vast majority of services that hit market miss their true potential simply because no-one had the time to think about the problem(s) or opportunities properly.

Good ideas take time to form. Turning good ideas into great concepts takes even longer, and time to think is a critical component of that process. Sleeping on an idea can turn it from the best idea ever to the dumbest. Taking the time to think can make the difference between taking the right path and hurtling down a cul-de-sac.

While an iterative process is the spine of any good design process, it’s not everything: far too often it leads to getting things done rather than getting them right. And that’s not good design.

We passionately believe in the need for pace here at WF, but we also know that unless we fight hard for the quality of the experiences we help to create, it’s that quality that many organisations will cut in order to achieve speed.

Anyone who is part of an agile delivery process — or anything conducted under the lean umbrella — will know how little time is given to simply sitting and thinking about a problem. While an iterative process is the spine of any good design process, it’s not everything: far too often it leads to getting things done rather than getting them right. And that’s not good design.

These may be sweeping generalisations, but they play out in practice time and time again. Adaptable, agile delivery methods and working at pace often work brilliantly. The thing is, these are not the only way to approach a challenge.

The shift to a world of short, intense sprints and continuous deployment has had side effects, and one of them is a corresponding shift away from the less tangible, more human and utterly crucial process of thinking. Some of the best thinkers are the people least comfortable with working in rapid sprints: experienced, skilled domain experts who know their subject area brilliantly but are ill-equipped (or simply too busy) to play an active part in a process that runs at a relentless pace. In an agile world, it’s hard to influence a solution without continuous, active input.

Is the answer simply to slow down? To take a little more time and run the process a little slower? Sometimes, yes, it’s just that simple. A few extra weeks might be the difference between amazing and disappointing.

More often, it’s about running programmes to a less programmatic pattern, mixing methods more and ensuring that more time is dedicated to broad, expansive (and slower) thinking up-front, before any form of delivery process is committed to. Think first, then act. Measure twice, cut once. These are adages of an age gone by, but they’re just as relevant today as ever.

The message here is simple: no matter what your timelines say, don’t be afraid to take a little more time to think. It just might make all the difference.

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